As phones have become smarter, they’ve progressively become better at figuring out what we like and giving us more of that. Curated advertisements and news recommendations are hardly a novel concept, but they’ve become eerily accurate in recent years. It’s an experience we’re all too familiar with—we have an innocent conversation about cat food somewhere near our phones, and suddenly we’re flooded with cat food ads on Instagram. Often, it seems that even a cursory Google search of a random topic one time is enough to convince the entire internet that I am interested in exclusively that topic and nothing else.
While these nearly omniscient forms of advertising can be invasive and even predatorial, targeted content doesn’t always have such ill intent. I find features like Google’s “Feed”—a constantly updating source of information and current news on topics that I’m personally invested in—to be really positive applications of this technology, allowing me to easily stay up to date with a curated feed of what matters to me. The same goes for “Google News,” which initially flooded me with tabloid pieces but has since learned I’m far more interested in the latest Android news than whatever celebrity divorce happened this week.
These types of curated feeds may be a great way to get the information you care about, but they have one unforgivable problem: spoilers. Frankly, I’m not remotely surprised my phone has figured out I’m a big Marvel fan and an even bigger Game of Thrones fan. Whether these algorithms have figured this out from my search feed, actual conversations or purchase history (and who knows from what other sources they are finding information about me from), the fact is that they’ve decided to send every other article on either topic my way.
While I’m usually happy to read these, not every news source is as responsible as it should be, and these articles often contain spoilers in the titles and thumbnails. The result is that my news feed, once a happy place to explore my favorite things, has become a virtual minefield that I desperately avoid.
Ironically, Google has done such a great job determining what I like that they’ve rendered their own service essentially unusable for me.
I am also not being paranoid. Nearly one year ago, "Avengers: Infinity War" came to theaters as one of the most anticipated movies of all time. Like every other Marvel fan, I planned on seeing the movie on release day and
avoided any place that might have spoilers like the plague. However, I just so happened to swipe into my Google feed while in the car on the way the film, only to be met with a headline saying “YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT CHARACTER IS BACK IN 'INFINITY WAR,'” with a wonderful thumbnail showing exactly what character would’ve totally surprised me.
This year, with the final season of "Game of Thrones" having a significant amount of plot details leaked, and the next chapter in the "Avengers" saga coming this week, I’m almost too paranoid to touch my phone. Until both have come and gone, I’ll be putting my curated feeds on hold while I try not to think about how easy it’d be for an $800 billion dollar company to figure out how to stop more spoilers.
Contact Caio Brighenti at firstname.lastname@example.org.